Review: The Way, Way Back
Family and friends gather for the summer at the cottage in Cape Cod, where 14-year-old Duncan is forced to deal with his mother’s condescending boyfriend, drunken adults, arranged play-dates, and his own endearing awkwardness. As adults socialize and drink, Duncan happens upon a water park and makes an unlikely friend with the owner Owen.
Who’s in it?
A star-studded cast is led by Steve Carell, playing against type as an unlikeable and downright mean boyfriend. Toni Collette is his girlfriend, and Liam James (Canadian) is superb and sympathetic as a shy, awkward teen slowly trying to break out of his shell. Sam Rockwell is captivating in every scene; Maya Rudolph, Alison Janney, Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet round out the crew that also includes co-writers and co-directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash in funny small roles.
It’s a cast of some very recognizable names and faces, but it’s the lesser known Liam James who is the emotional centre of this wonderfully told story about growing up and emptying out your bag of problems.
At its heart, it is a coming-of-age story centered on the shy and awkward Duncan, and he slowly – ever so slowly – begins to break out of his shell, be it due to the cute girl next door, the confident young boy he is instructed to spend time with, or the charming and carefree Owen he meets along the way. On top of that, however, is a story about how adults come together in an attempt to let go of the problems of the past and celebrate the successes, while perhaps trying to capture fleeting happiness or romance.
It is the cottage escape, and it’s the kids who seem to be given more responsibility. Duncan is told to run off for the day and occupy himself, something he does with ease, especially when the parents are drinking late at night and then again at breakfast when he wakes up.
His departures lead him to discover the awesomely named Water-Wizz Park, an aquatic getaway run by the friendliest and funniest of staff. Duncan’s world changes when he meets Owen, a father figure far more in tune with what Duncan needs than Trent, his mother’s boyfriend. Rockwell steals each and every scene he is in and what happens is that the scenes at the water park are so different than the ones at the claustrophobic cottage that they became an escape not only for Duncan but for the audience as well.
Much of the reason is due to Trent’s condescension and passive aggressive nature. Duncan’s mother is charmed, hoping to make things work, but Trent acts towards Duncan with neither compassion nor respect. He instead tries to force him to change into a different person, as if he is mad at the person he is.
And this is how the film starts: while driving to the cottage, Trent prods Duncan, asking him to rate himself. When Duncan hesitates, Trent answers, coldly and directly. He says, ‘let’s see if we can bring that number up this summer.’
A smartly written film, both hysterically funny and powerfully moving, The Way, Way Back is a summer phenomenon that is about getting away and finding yourself. Carell and Rockwell are both unforgettable, for very different reasons mind you, and James is incredibly winning as Duncan. It’s a moment caught in time, one that doesn’t necessarily have a beginning or an end, but instead ponders the ability of people of any age to grow, change, and move on.
Should You See It?
Yes! Do it soon, and then tell your friends and family to do the same! Especially before it’s too late and you head to the cottage!
Rockwell has a myriad of funny and deep lines, but it’s the opening of the film that sets a powerful tone: “Duncan, on a scale of 1-10, what do you think you are?”